Kick-Off: Saturday, March 28, 18:10 ET. Monumental de Nunez stadium, Buenos Aires.
Finally the wait is over, as Diego Maradona will officially debut as the coach of Argentina in a decisive World Cup qualifier with Venezuela in Buenos Aires on Saturday. Maradona will be hoping to get off to a great start with Los Albicelestes as they try to claim three precious points that will steer them closer towards South Africa 2010.
In Maradona's first two games in charge, Argentina picked up convincing away victories over Scotland and France. But the clash with Venezuela is for the points, and Argentina will be expected to claim a comprehensive victory.
Argentina come into the match with 16 points, seven less than group leaders Paraguay. They have been highly inconsistent in their campaign so far, and El Diez is hoping to inject the necessary motivation into the squad so that they can play exciting attacking football while at the same time obtaining positive results.
A capacity 65,000 crowd will attend the match, and on Thursday Maradona stated that he would love it if him and his team were applauded off the pitch after a superb display.
Maradona, who guided Argentina to their last World Cup victory in 1986, has made a number of changes to the squad since replacing Alfio Basile last year. Perhaps the biggest of these changes is his idea to play without a "classic" anchor man. This is believed to be the main reason why playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme quit Argentina for the second time earlier in March.
Ready To Spoil The Party
Venezuela confront the match with lots of motivation, not only because they will be up against Maradona and his squad, but because facing Argentina in Buenos Aires is always an exciting challenge. The intention of Cesar Farias' side will be to block their opponents with four men at the back and three players in midfield. They understand that they will be under constant pressure, but they will hope to withstand this, and possibly score a goal on the counterattack.
Farias affirmed that facing Maradona "doesn't generate anything" for him, and that his team aren't concerned about facing one of the most dangerous teams in the world. He said he would expect Argentina to pile heavy pressure on his team, and this could play in favour of Venezuela, because they count with speedy players in the attack.
La Vino Tinto haven't managed to claim a point in 15 encounters against the Argentines in the World Cup qualifiers, and they are unlikely to overturn this statistic on this occasion. Venezuela are struggling in the qualifiers, with only ten points, but they know that a defeat could severely dent their World Cup aspirations.
During the week Maradona tested out a tactical system where he played with three defenders and the same number of strikers: Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez. This is a new approach taken by the national team. Although it has yet to be announced, Maradona has already decided on his starting XI. The only question mark is whether Daniel Diaz or Javier Zanetti will play in defense. While veteran midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron will miss the match because of a toe injury.
Possible Starting XI -
Juan Pablo Carrizo, Daniel Diaz, Marcos Angeleri, Gabriel Heinze, Maxi Rodriguez, Fernando Gago, Javier Mascherano, Jonas Gutierrez, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez.
Farias has no option but to take the match with a very defensive approach. This is much of the reason why he has included a number of hard-tackling players in his team for the match. Venezuela have few injury concerns and have named a very solid side. Farias will wait until the final minute before deciding whether Gerzon Chacon or Roberto Rosales will take the field.
Possible Starting XI -
Renny Vega, Gerzon Chacon, Jose Manuel Rey, Gabriel Cichero, Juan Fuenmayor, Tomas Rincon, Franklin Lucena, Jorge Rojas, Cesar Gonzalez, Juan Arango and Giancarlo Maldonado.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Argentina - Lionel Messi
La Pulga has been on fire this season, and he is expected to turn on the style against Venezuela, whether he wears the prized no.10 jersey or not. Now that Riquelme is out of the picture, Messi is likely to have a greater responsibility with the national team. He will be desperate to get on the score-sheet in a match that Argentina have to win.
Venezuela - Juan Arango
Although they are expected to create few goal-scoring opportunities at the Monumental, Venezuela will be hoping to get the most out of Mallorca attacking midfielder Juan Arango. When at his best Arango can be a menace to any defense, and if he is supplied with the right balls he could well silence the massive home crowd.
The stage is set and Argentina are expected to deliver, especially because it is Maradona's first official match in charge. There is huge expectation in Argentina and across the world for that matter, and Los Albicelestes should prove too strong for Venezuela. Expect an aggressive Argentina to play some spectacular football as they claim a clear victory.
Argentina 2-0 Venezuela
Gregory Sica, Goal.com